The Dangers of Traditionalism

I preached a sermon last night in our church and thought the main idea may be blog worthy, so here it is. I never really noticed Jesus’ view on man’s traditions until I began to look at his assessment of traditions in Matthew 15. I’ve had my own opinion of traditionalism for quite some time as I’ve personally witnessed its possibility to be destructive. Even with that, usually we think of traditions as something seemingly harmless and just a matter of taste and opinion, especially within the church. It surprised me a little, however, to see Jesus’ evaluation of it.

In the first nine verses of Matthew 15, Jesus makes an evaluation of tradition beginning with a tradition that seems, on the surface, to be somewhat harmless. I mean, who’s going to argue that washing your hands before you eat is a bad thing? But, what may surprise you, as it did me, is the affects of traditionalism especially in regard to the Word of God.

This is what Jesus says is the problem with traditionalism:

“So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” (Matthew 15:6, ESV)

Make void the Word?!  I don’t know about but it’s a scary thought to me that someone could spend their life memorizing the Bible, thinking they are authentic followers of God but not being able to hear and apply the Word at all.

The problem is traditions can wrongly be equated with obedience. Please know this; being obedient to a man-made tradition is not the same thing as being obedient to God and His Word.

What is the fruit of Traditionalism? The answer is pretty plain and clear in the words of Jesus:

  1. Hypocrisy – I don’t know about you but the last thing I ever want to hear from Jesus’ mouth to me is that I’m a hypocrite. I imagine you feel the same way. What Jesus is saying about the Pharisaical traditionalists is that they look the part of a God follower but unfortunately they only look like it. They can’t even hear Him!
  2. All Talk and No heart – Traditionalism creates a people who can talk about God but have no real Spiritual connection with Him.
  3. Lost Worship – Traditionalism misses the fact that God’s Word has a sole purpose of connected us to Him. Trying to live to a religious standard completely misses that and worship fades.
  4. Worthless Teaching – When tradition rules in the church, clear, unapologetic, biblical preaching is traded out for something far less. Men standing in pulpits running on about the “good ole days” when hymns and women in dresses ruled. That’s not Biblical, and it’s not preaching.

As we talk about tradition, a question does need to be asked. Are there any good traditions? After all, Paul did say to the Thessalonians:

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15, ESV)

As I looked at this idea of tradition, the first thing I noticed was that Paul said that these “traditions” were something that the Apostles had spoken and written. As you research the New Testament, you may find as I have, these traditions are what I call the Jesus traditions. These are the traditional teachings of Jesus they made their way through the first century church and they look like this:

  1. Love your enemies (Luke 6:27)
  2. Humble yourself before the Lord and people (Matt. 18:4)
  3. It’s better to give than receive (Acts 20:35)
  4. Do unto others that you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:31)

I’m sure you’ve noticed these types of traditions are not religious externals, but traditions that only come as Jesus, through His Spirit, brings internal changes to us.

It’s absolutely important that we don’t hold ourselves to old man-made traditions within the church and that we don’t create new ones but we hold the traditions of the teaching of Jesus. When we do that, worship is not lost but becomes God-centered, Spirit filled and vibrant. (Anything other than that is not actually worship.) And, the Word and work of God becomes realized in our life, not void as Jesus told the Pharisees because of their tradition.

My hope is that God Word lives out as He promised it, both in me and the church I pastor.

“so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11, ESV)

How Long Should We Preach?

This is the question that pops into many of the minds of those sitting in our worship services each week. How long is he going to preach? Ask ten different pastors how long a sermon should be and you may get ten different answers but that’s not actually the question I’m talking about. (We’ll save that debate for a different time.)

Paul told Timothy, in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, that there was a day coming in which people will no longer listen to sound doctrine. Paul states that people will “heap up” teachers to “suit their own passions,” which means, they’ll basically only listen if someone’s telling them what they want to hear. That’s just a little scary.

But, there’s a charge from Paul to Timothy in verse 2 to “preach the Word” which in context is equated with sound doctrine, and preach it, when it’s convenient and you feel like preaching and even when it’s inconvenient and you don’t feel like it. Obviously, these words to Timothy are meant to charge and encourage him to keep preaching even when it’s tough; and trust me sometimes it’s tough.

So, why would we keep preaching? How long should we keep at it?

It’s easy to focus on the people that Paul describes in this passage. That is, those who are not interested in hearing doctrine and realizing the change and growth that the Scriptures can deliver. But, the charge is to focus on, and keep preaching in the hearing of, those who do have ears to hear and those who are spiritually prepared and ready to hear from God. And here’s the good news, even today there are still many, many people who want to hear from God!

The only thing that limits the power of God’s Word and the Gospel is the lack of an ear to hear. So, as long as there’s someone listening we must keep preaching! As you plan your worship time this weekend in your church, be sure to recognize that God wants you to hear His Word preached and that’s for your edification. Don’t worry, if you plan to attend Vienna Baptist Church my average sermon is less than forty minutes long.

To all my preacher friends out there, be encouraged; there are people still listening! Preach the Word!

Generational Pride – How has it affected the church?

The sin of pride is generational. This, of course, is true on several levels. First, generational sin has effected every generation from the first, Adam. The pride of Adam, which could be encapsulated in the statement, “I want to be like God,” is something that has been passed upon us all. (See Romans 5:12)

Then, there’s the pride that can be passed on through more recent generations; a culture of pride. We see a great example of this in the book of Daniel. Belshazzar was the last king of Babylon before the Medes took over the kingdom during a night of hard partying by the Babylonian royalty. This was predicted by Daniel. As Daniel explains Belshazzar’s dream and the judgment that is coming, he makes it known that Belshazzar has not learned from the past kings, specifically Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel sites the problem of pride and its result in the life of Nebuchadnezzar:

But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him.” (Daniel 5:20, ESV)

Daniel goes on to reveal that this has passed upon Belshazzar generationally:

And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this,” (Daniel 5:22, ESV)

We could all easily find some examples of this type of generational pride as we see it played out in some of our own families, or the families to whom we minister. We all have stories of people stuck in the generational sins of abuse or addiction and many of us have helped people, sometimes even in our own families, through struggles with these.

As I look at the story of the kings in Daniel, and the truth that there can be generational sins in leadership, I wonder how much this type of generational sin has affected the church.

I’ve noticed in the culture in which I pastor some strong residue from the sins of the church in the not so distant past. It seems that many pulpits, here in the Bible belt, have been filled with the declaration that those of us in the church have it all together, and what the world really needs is to be like us. There is no more dangerous sermon than this.

The result of such preaching of pride are several generations of Christians who are so caught up with the idolatry of exteriors that they can’t fathom that someone can come to Christ who doesn’t first look like them. This has been distilled down to Bible versions, clothing standards, music standards and other externals and opinions which should never cause disruption within a church. The observation of this generational sin of pride is the opposite of the message of humility that comes from preaching the cross.

It’s imperative that the message of the church be a message of humility. That is, we are not proud because of who we are in Christ but incredibly humbled. That way the church is never trying to exalt itself in the eyes of the world, but Jesus alone is exalted.

I think I can safely say there is a healthy trend in churches, especially those who want to see people outside of the faith impacted by the Gospel, to remember the humility that a relationship with Jesus brings. No one walks away from an encounter with Jesus the same. That’s a fact. When we live and serve out of a humility and passion that comes from an encounter with Jesus, instead of the pride of being better than someone else, we can then reach with compassion those who so desperately need to see the love and grace of Christ as we have.

But, are we at risk for other generational sins fueled by pride? I wonder if there are sins of pride committed in the church today that will be past down to future generations? Here’s a couple that may be looming on the horizon:

  1. There seems to be a trend, largely brought on by social media that the name of the game in ministry now is to become famous. (Admittedly, I say this using the platform of social media.) It seems so many now are just trying to build their platform to gain the notice of publishers. I’m guessing that’s the desired outcome. Now, I certainly don’t think it’s a sin to have an impact on a lot of people. It’s a noble thing to try and gain as big an audience as possible to hear and be affected by the Gospel. But, it’s imperative that the churches goal, as well as all of us who are in vocational ministry, is to make Jesus and Jesus alone famous.
  1. Secondly, is a continued drive to define ministries, or people personally, by their possessions. I will say that it’s a good thing that we seem to be trending away from prosperity doctrine but a poverty doctrine can become just as destructive. Either way, people still end up with the pride of possessions, either by defining their spirituality by what they have, or what they don’t have. (Of course, in our nation we are much more predisposed to a search for prosperity.) Either way, if we become defined at all by possession it’s a sure way to become entangled with pride.

The lesson for us as we look at the past, and the future, is that we need to make sure and realize that the sin of pride is extremely destructive. Even as the kingdom was torn from the hands of Belshazzar, pride will cause great destruction within the church; and it has. So, it’s imperative that we learn a lesson from the book of Daniel. God will share His glory with no one. There is no one in all creation who should know that better than those of us who serve in the context of the local church.

May our words be like those recorded of Nebuchadnezzar:

It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me. How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.” (Daniel 4:2–3, ESV)